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Four Tet - Live at Alexandra Palace London, 8th and 9th May 2019 Music Album Reviews

Kieran Hebden’s new live album reminds us that he is a stellar performer, not just a producer.
The British producer Kieran Hebden has one of the most distinctive signatures in electronic music. First, a gravelly drum machine; then, some jewel-toned synth pads; and, finally, a strip of harp or chimes or wordless cooing, unspooling like wrinkled ribbon.

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Yuna - Rouge Music Album Reviews

The Malaysian-born, L.A.-based musician moves away from folk-pop into simmering R&B, with features from Tyler, the Creator, Little Simz, and others.

Yuna has always made dreamer’s music: ethereal and achy, often centered on the gap between desire and reality. But on Rouge, the 32-year-old sounds clear-eyed, grounded, and sure of herself. Rouge is Yunalis Zara’ai’s fourth internationally released studio album since moving from her home country of Malaysia to L.A. eight years ago and, not inconsequentially, her first as a married person. On lead single “Forevermore,” she croons, “I’ve been dreaming of this light/ Piercing through the darkest night,” and one gets the sense she’s been waiting for this self-trust and certainty a long while. Her 2012 self-titled debut placed her within the world of Ingrid Michaelson-esque folk-pop, but on Rouge she’s making simmering R&B bops, pulling from disco and hip-hop along the way.


“Amy” drifts like incense, flush with the trappings of Sade-inspired smooth jazz and Masego’s shadowy backing vocals. “Pink Youth,” featuring Little Simz, is a girl-empowerment track that rides a hazy disco beat reminiscent of Beyoncé’s “Blow,” while “Castaway,” featuring Tyler, The Creator, is a soft-spoken yet indisputable middle finger to a former lover. Neither song contains their guest artists’ typically sharp bars (Tyler did not need to rhyme “Beer belly is on horizon” with “You really don’t have Verizon”), but texturally, they work. By contrast, on album highlight “Does She,” Yuna’s duet with Jay Park unfolds like actual dialogue, rather than just a requisite 16-bar insertion.

Not every track is so seamless. Album single “Blank Marquee” bumps along to a roller-rink-ready beat that recalls the break in Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which then dovetails into a woozy Tame Impala synth groove, only to be interrupted by a grubby and unpleasant G-Eazy. On “Likes,” Yuna’s plum-sweet voice rides atop an aquatic wash of Rhodes piano chords with trumpet lines recalling Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment’s Surf. She sings of the double standards she faces as a Muslim woman in the American music industry; if people aren’t knocking her for dressing modestly or not drinking, they’re complaining that it isn’t a Muslim woman’s place to be singing on stage in public. It’s one of the more personal moments on the album—until KYLE enters, and his verse zaps the mood almost as effectively as J. Cole on Jeremih’s “Planez.”

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These bumps in the road only underscore Yuna’s evolution: She’s broadened her palette, but she is still figuring out how to make these sounds feel like her own. There are some singular moments: her lilting, off-beat synths; the gentle instrumental stretches that feel more experimental than anything she’s done; a recurring motif—alternately framed by traditional Malay gendang-like percussion, meditative vocals, and raindrops—that haunts the corners of the album.

It is in the final track that we see Yuna most clearly. Inspired by syair, a form of Malay narrative poetry-singing, album closer “Tiada Akhir” lingers like a faded memory. Against a rainy, silver-gray backdrop, Yuna intones in Malay, “You were born, like a bright light [...] I thought you would save me/But you were the poison that stopped my heart.” It is a poem about loss—and yet, in its ashes, we come to witness the truth: that from its depths, Yunalis Zara’ai is rising.


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